Thailand – King anoints new Supreme Patriarch

20th chief of Buddhism in Ratanakosin era commended as caring for unfortunate.

HIS MAJESTY King Maha Vajiralongkorn yesterday presided over the ceremony to appoint Somdet Phra Ariyawongsakhatayan, the abbot of Ratchabophit Sathitmahasimaram Temple, as the country’s 20th Supreme Patriarch at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

To honour Thailand’s new Buddhism chief, an investiture ceremony started at about 6.30pm with the King presenting saffron robes to senior monks from the Sangha Supreme Council. He then lit candles and incense sticks to worship the Tripitaka, after which senior monks of the Racha Khana rank chanted and granted religious precepts to the King.

The Bureau of Royal Scribes and Royal Decorations then announced the royal command appointing the new Supreme Patriarch. 

The appointment was followed prayers by Racha Khanaranking monks, and then prayers by Sangha Council members. 

The new Supreme Patriarch and Sangha Council members took seats with a group of senior monks from across the country while the King presented a golden plate bearing the name of the Supreme Patriarch and items associated with the senior position.

The newly-appointed Supreme Patriarch is described by laypersons as an austere and very compassionate monk.

Somdet Phra Ariyawongsakha-tayan (Ambhorn Ambharo) has been welcomed by people nationwide, with some suggesting that he is the perfect choice to lead Thai monks and Buddhists.

Yesterday morning, Somdet Phra Maha Muneewong, as the Supreme Patriarch was then known, attended a merit-making ceremony at Ratchabophit Temple to pay respect to previous abbots of the temple. He stopped briefly for a prayer in front of a statue of King Rama V inside the temple. Along the route, young and old Thais paid respect to the newly appointed Supreme Patriarch by kneeling on the ground.

Amporn Kasiwat, 61, a resident of Bangkok’s On Nut district, said she had attended an overnight prayer for Makha Bucha Day and stayed on to witness the ceremony for the new Supreme Patriarch. “I’m very delighted,” she said.

Woraya Jitkarunawong, 50, a resident of Bangkok’s Bang Bon area, said the new Supreme Patriarch was very compassionate and allowed people to follow him closely during the Makha Bucha Day’s Wien Tien ceremony.

Tonwud Wangthamkhum, 68, said he was ordained in 1980 when the new Supreme Patriarch was a monk who always showed compassion to those were unfortunate and had made mistakes.

Itthichai Saewong, a former monk at Ratchabophit Temple, said the new Supreme Patriarch was a fit person to lead the religion, given that he was one of the most austere senior monks in the country and very humble.

“I am tremendously delighted to hear that my preceptor when I was monk at Ratchabophit Temple was nominated to be the new Supreme Patriarch. I wish I could make it to the official appointment ceremony to be a witness in this historic event,” he said.

Itthichai – a monk at Ratchabophit Temple from July to December last year – said he had opportunities to be close to his abbot and serve him as a disciple, and as such directly experienced his kindness and witnessed his commendable practices as a monk.

Somdet Phra Ariyawongsakha-tayan was ordained at Wat Ratchabophit in 1948 and studied at the temple until he graduated from the sixth (intermediate) level of Pali studies before going to Banaras Hindu University in India to study a master’s degree in history. He graduated in 1969. 

He then headed a Buddhism mission in Australia in 1973 and set up temples in many Australian cities such as Canberra, Melbourne and Darwin. He was appointed abbot at Ratchabophit Temple in 2009.

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